Apparently, Amnesty International was jealous that its rival, Human Rights Watch, got international publicity and the opportunity to solicit anti-Semitic donors when it issued a report comparing Israel to Afrikaner South Africa, so it decided to produce its own 280 pages of anti-Israel propaganda.
Predictability, the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community came out with guns blazing, denouncing the report and performing a meticulous forensic deconstruction of its specious allegations. This was like shooting fish in a barrel; nevertheless, at the risk of being a gadfly, I believe the campaign against Amnesty is counterproductive.
While the multitude of analyses discredited the report, the bigger impact I’m afraid was to give the conclusion more publicity than it would have gotten otherwise. This has become a routine cycle where the anti-Israel propaganda machine disseminates garbage and the pro-Israel side recycles it, generating far more publicity for the calumnies than the original reports. This is particularly dangerous in the case of the Amnesty/HRW libel.
The objective of the delegitimizers is to make the word “Israel” as identified with the “A word” as the word “devil” is with “evil.” Unfortunately, Israel and its allies are doing the anti-Semites’ work for them. Every time they talk about this big lie, even while discrediting it, they remind everyone of the linkage. Readers outside the pro-Israel choir are not going to absorb the point-by-point refutation of nearly 300 pages of baloney; they will remember the repetition of the two words Amnesty and its fellow travelers want to plant in their minds.
I know Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has warned that associating Israel with the “A word” “will be a real threat” in 2022, but I believe he is wrong.
Consider that the first reference to Israel being like South Africa dates to at least 1961 when ironically, it was made at the United Nations by the South African prime minister and architect of the country’s apartheid policies Hendrik Verwoerd. So, this slander has been circulating for more than 60 years and yet Israel has somehow thrived.
There is nothing new when cogs in the anti-Israel propaganda machine such as the U.N. Human Rights Council, HRW, B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace and Amnesty “investigate” Israel and publicize their preordained conclusions demonizing Israel. These groups all know they have no impact on Israeli policy. Other than attracting a few days of publicity and a hook for fundraising, what was the point of Amnesty writing a report? They could have just put out a press release after HRW published theirs that said, “Ditto.”
Israel and its allies are understandably apoplectic about the slanders, incredulous that the media publicizes them and gobsmacked that people are stupid enough to believe them. Sadly, in the case of groups like Amnesty, seemingly nothing can discredit them.
NGO Monitor consistently demonstrates the hypocrisy of many of these organizations, their questionable funding sources, and, in some cases, their connection to terrorism; nevertheless, the watchdog recognizes that groups like Amnesty, which “claim to promote values that are seen as universally good—peace, human rights, justice, coexistence”—enjoy the “halo effect” and “are automatically perceived as credible and constructive forces, immune from investigation and criticism.” Hence, the media and others regurgitate their findings uncritically. “The ‘halo effect,’ NGO Monitor acknowledges, “provides anti-Israel political advocacy NGOs with a facade, allowing them to hide their political warfare agendas behind the rhetoric of ‘human rights’ and ‘international law.’ ”
In addition, because the NGOs’ reports on other countries attract less criticism, their halos remain intact. Thus, for example, even as U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration disagrees with Amnesty’s conclusion, AP reporter Matt Lee noted the Department’s own human-rights reports routinely cite Amnesty and HRW.
Rather than repeatedly falling into the NGOs’ trap by feeling compelled to react, maybe the better strategy would be to respond the way we did to bullies at school: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
The NGOs know the media is their megaphone and have learned, like the Palestinians, that whoever gets their message out first in the propaganda war wins. Just think, for example, how many times the lie continues to be told about the number of children killed by Israel in Gaza last May despite all the contradictory evidence.
Like hyperventilating over BDS, devoting our scarce resources to countering the Amnesty calumny is mostly a waste of time because Israel has only grown stronger despite the demonization. Look no further than the Abraham Accords. It’s ironic that Arabs don’t believe or care about this big lie, but Westerners do. Even in Europe, however, it is almost entirely the far-left (and the British Labour Party under former leader Jeremy Corbyn), and not the governments that act on NGO attacks on Israel. Sure, they’ll vote against Israel at the United Nations because they think it placates the Arab/Muslim bloc, but when it comes to their policies, they vote with their pocketbooks, buying Israeli weapons, technology, goods and services. Even the anti-Semitic celebrities and professors are little more than a gnat-like annoyance.
What is important is that despite the decades of anti-Israel propaganda, U.S.-Israel relations have only grown stronger over time. That said, we are not absolved from educating the next generation that is more likely to get its information from TikTok than from The New York Times (which, when it comes to Israel, is not much better). The fear never recedes that the drumbeat of criticism of Israel will negatively impact the views of our future leaders. Who doesn’t shudder at the thought that more Marjorie Taylor Greenes, Lauren Boeberts, Ilhan Omars and Rashida Tlaibs will be elected to positions of responsibility?
A decade before the HRW/Amnesty reports, an AICE/TIP survey found that 25 percent of college students agreed (4 percent strongly) with the comparison of Israel and South Africa, 22 percent disagreed (6 percent strongly), but most (53 percent) were unsure.
The following question reflected the problem for Israel that is reinforced by the NGOs and others. Just 10 percent of students said they believed that Israel protects the rights of Israeli Arabs; another 11 percent agreed that Israel routinely abuses the human rights of Arabs; and 32 percent said the implementation of Israeli law to protect the rights of Israeli Arabs falls short. Note this question only related to Israeli Arabs and not Palestinians in the disputed territories, where most criticism is focused.
Clearly, long before the latest NGO reports, Israel had an image problem on campus, and those students are now in the workforce and possibly engaged in politics. Is Israel enough of a concern for them to act on their belief? In most cases, probably not and, even if they do, other results of the survey suggest they still support Israel (there was virtually no support for the Palestinians). This needs to be addressed, but it is unlikely attacking the NGO messengers will be any more effective than “Brand Israel.” Instead, Israel needs to better demonstrate through words and deeds its commitment to peace and human rights, and the pro-Israel community needs to do a much better job of teaching the aleph-bet of Israeli history and stop thinking that another “A word”—advocacy—is somehow profane.
In the meantime, I will offer an intellectual response suited to the seriousness of the Amnesty report: Na-na na-na boo-boo.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”